Democrat Kunce focuses on Hawley’s Jan. 6 actions in Senate campaign. It’s paying off

Democrat Lucas Kunce easily outraised Sen. Josh Hawley in his first three months after declaring that he would take on the incumbent Missouri Republican in the 2024 Senate race, centering his campaign around Hawley’s role in the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Kunce raised $1.14 million in the first three months of his bid to challenge Hawley, about $320,000 more than the $816,445 Hawley raised through both his campaign account and his victory committee, the two accounts he uses to bring in contributions.

“We’re not only proud of raising a record amount of money, we’re proud of how we did it,” said Caleb Cavarretta, Kunce’s campaign manager. “Lucas continues to focus on real people in his fight against Josh Hawley, not massive corporations that have bankrolled Hawley for years and helped him strip this state for parts.”

This is the second time Kunce is running for Senate in as many years. He lost the 2022 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate to Trudy Busch Valentine, the heiress to the Busch beer fortune and a political newcomer who was handily defeated by Republican Eric Schmitt in the general election.

Kunce faces an uphill battle challenging Hawley in a state that has increasingly voted for Republican candidates. Hawley beat former Sen. Claire McCaskill by a little more than 5 percentage points in 2018. In 2020, Missourians chose former President Donald Trump over President Joe Biden by more than 15 percentage points, further eroding the state’s status as a national bellwether.

Despite being outraised by Kunce over the last three months, Hawley has a large head start in fundraising from the last five years. His campaign frequently sends out emails asking for money — including a recent email selling shirts saying “Delete your TikTok” — and has collected more than $14 million for the 2024 campaign.

He has also spent more than $10 million over the past five years. Hawley reported having $4 million in his campaign account, compared to Kunce’s $695,681. The totals do not include a super PAC supporting Hawley because it has not had to report donations this year.

Hawley has long been a rhetorical target of Democrats, even if national Democrats don’t see Missouri as an easily winnable state. Kyle Plotkin, a political consultant for Hawley, said he expects that Kunce will be able to raise millions this cycle.

“Josh has taken on the most powerful interests in the nation to protect Missourians — big pharma, big tech, the corporate monopolies,” said Kyle Plotkin, a political consultant for Hawley. “The woke and powerful will flood Missouri with money from the coasts to try to buy this race. We expect the eventual nominee to raise close to $100 million.”

Much of the national animosity for Hawley comes from the Missouri senator’s role on January 6, 2021, when a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol and delayed the certification of the 2020 presidential election. Hawley, who was the first senator to say he would object to the certification, raised a fist to protesters in the morning and was captured on camera in a photo some said would kill his political career.

Kunce launched his Senate campaign with a video of a man in a suit running — playing off of a video shown by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol that depicted Hawley running from the Senate chamber on January 6.

“I would expect that the single picture of Josh Hawley raising his fist the morning of January 6th to encourage those who would ultimately rush the Capitol is going to be an image that will raise millions of dollars for Lucas Kunce,” said Jeff Smith, a former Democratic state senator.

But Hawley has also fundraised off the photo, selling mugs with the image and the words “show me strong.” His campaign said he has raised more than $13 million since January 6, after several groups, like Hallmark’s PAC, said they would no longer contribute to his campaign.

In recent elections, Democrats have had a history of sending millions to Democratic candidates competing against candidates that have earned the ire of their party. In 2020, both South Carolina Democrat Jamie Harrison and Kentucky Democrat Amy McGrath broke fundraising records while trying to unseat Sens. Lindsay Graham and Mitch McConnell, respectively. Both Harrison and McGrath lost by double-digits.

In Kansas that year, Democrats sent more than $24 million to Barbara Bollier in her campaign against Republican Roger Marshall, even though Marshall won the Senate seat easily.

But while it’s likely that millions will pour through Missouri in the election, Kunce’s fundraising total could mean his campaign is being embraced by the Missouri Democratic establishment in a way it wasn’t in 2022, when, wary of Kunce’s more populist policy pitches, party leaders recruited Busch Valentine into the race.

Smith said Kunce worked hard after the last election to connect with both state and federal Democrats to win their support. There has been little indication that other prominent Missouri Democrats are seriously considering a Senate bid.

“Democrats need to find something that works better in rural Missouri,” Smith said. “Democrats can’t win statewide elections by getting 28 percent in the majority of counties.”